Looking Back To When We Looked Ahead: Stereotypes of Women Leaders

As Hillary Clinton has declared victory as the first female presumptive presidential nominee in U.S. history, it is prudent to look back to 2014. Two years ago this moment was a prediction, so we are republishing excerpts of this 2014 column on media representations of all female leaders by Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president. This originally ran in ASU Magazine.hillaryDid you happen to catch the Time magazine cover relating to Hillary Clinton’s possible run for president in 2016?What do you think about it?Regardless of your political persuasion, you can find hundreds of media representations that reflect cultural stereotypes of women as political leaders.Goodness knows, Sarah Palin’s red peeky-toe high-heeled shoes drew snide commentary that had absolutely nothing to do with her qualifications or positions on important issues during her vice presidential run. Perhaps the shoe-heels-as-metaphor also illustrates lingering fears of women assuming leadership roles and the power that goes with them.Nor is the media’s penchant of using gender stereotypes to diminish the credibility of women limited to politics.Television, family films and commercials rely heavily on domestic portrayals of women, even in 2014, when women make up almost half the workplace and have been earning about three-fifths of the college degrees for decades. There is nothing wrong with operating in the domestic sphere; in every household, someone has to do the laundry and clean the toilet. But such portrayals are a big problem when coupled with under-representation of women in leadership roles.Here are some hard numbers to pair with these assertions. Less than 5 percent of business and political leaders in family films are female, for instance, according to a report by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. Primetime depictions of female political leaders are stuck below 30 percent, and those of female business executives trail at 15 percent.From movies to tweets, time-honored cultural stereotypes, tropes and dichotomies abound. Because media forms us as it informs us – male and female alike – we ingest these images and they do affect our self-perceptions and therefore our leadership intentions. That’s why Take The Lead, the nonprofit organization I co-founded, whose mission is to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions by 2025, collaborated with Fem-Inc., a women-centered technology and entertainment company that seeks to engage female audiences, to publish the report “Leadership Fictions: Gender, Leadership and the Media.”In keeping with Take The Lead’s commitment to solve problems, not just talk about them, the paper focuses on the solutions – positive things media can do to further gender parity in leadership.~By Gloria Feldt, a professor of practice in the women and gender studies program within ASU’s School of Social Transformation. She is the co-founder and president of Take The Lead, and author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.